“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
The first time I encountered the idea of being focused on living in the present I was 11 years old and sitting in a movie theater in Houston, Texas. Luke Skywalker was trying to convince Jedi Master Yoda to train him as a Jedi, but Yoda was reticent, saying “All his life has he looked away to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” Yes, my first exposure to what I now know is ancient wisdom was Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Since then I have encountered this bit of wisdom a number of times, such as in Eckhart Tolle’s celebrated book The Power of Now. I recall reading that book for the first time sitting on my parents’ huge and beautiful back deck just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. They lived in a heavily wooded area, so that deck was the ideal place to sit and read… and, it turns out, to “be in the now.” With sun beams streaming beautifully through the leaves and no sound except for the songs of birds, the thrum of hummingbirds’ wings and the buzz of insects, that was the first place I experienced the slowing of time and the vibrancy of the individual moment.
A few years ago a very good friend of mine experienced a tragedy, and the process of living through it and coping with it saw him transform his Christian church into a Buddho-Christian temple. As he put it, he “left the church and took Jesus with” him. The Christian church very often misses the point of Jesus’ teachings, choosing to focus on the New Testament’s miraculous and probably completely fictional Gospel of John and letters of Paul of Tarsus, who never met Jesus, instead of the synoptic and more likely biographical teachings in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The idea of focusing on the teachings of the historical Jesus and leaving behind the supernatural stuff definitely appealed to me, and it turns out Jesus’ teachings are nearly identical to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, posthumously referred to as The Buddha. In fact, as the late, great New Testament scholar Marcus Borg stated in his own book comparing the teachings of Jesus and Buddha, it is tempting to come to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth studied Buddhism during all those years for which we have no narrative of his life.
Recently, my friend started a podcast and the first installment was about the six medicines of Bodhi-Christo, and the first medicine happens to be … wait for it … living “just for today.”
What does it mean to live just for today? It sounds simple enough, but in a world of deadlines, uncertain futures, crazy schedules and the pressure to always get ahead, how do we slow down and just be?
I started by spending time each day in silence. I’m the kind of person who loves to have music or something playing at all times, and I think this is partially because the world has become so noisy that if I don’t have my own noise going I am inundated with someone else’s. Still, I found a quiet place and just tuned everything out…and it was truly a refreshing experience. In time I came to crave it. I found that I could get more or it if I took my dog for long walks in the afternoon, and that lead to another disocvery.
While walking, I made an effort to “feel The Force” all around me. I live in a beautiful neighborhood next to a park, so there are lots of trees and flowers along the way. I could focus on breathing and “reach out” to nature just as Yoda tells Luke to reach out to The Force. I could feel the life force emanating from everything and even perceive myself giving my own energy to that nature or Force.
Now that walk is the most important part of my day.
Being in the moment can also help you deal with stressful situations. If you have a long list of things to do, it helps to be able to just take one thing on the list and accomplish that one thing before even thinking about the next thing on the list. Doing that will also mean that you will do your best on that one thing because you aren’t distracted or tempted to rush through it. Taking a thousand-mile journey can seem daunting if you’re thinking about step 1000, but if you just take and enjoy the first step, then the second, then the third and so on, eventually you will arrive and find that the journey as perhaps enjoyable!
Life also has a tendency to put us in the presence of people who are not living in mindfulness, people who live in chaos and give into anger and destructive emotions. They will lash out at you and try to bring you into their emotional turmoil. Being in the moment can help you to understand that the person yelling at you is in chaos. That realization can serve as a shield, allowing you to be in the moment, make that moment peaceful internally, and not feel you have to engage. You can thank that person for their feedback, state calmly that you disagree and leave it at that, or perhaps even just remain silent until the chaotic person is swept away by their chaos.
Living “just for today” can also help you to deal with the anxiety so often created by the media, and especially social media. You can set it aside, observe it, but not get worked up about it. This is something I had to learn, and I still work on it, especially when it comes to politics and the division facing our country. People get behind some insane ideas and leaders and it can be extremely frustrating. Then I look around me, see the many blessings in my life, and breathe.
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Stressed? Is life too much for you right now?
Stop. Find a quiet place (yes, you have time). Spend a few minutes paying attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale. Notice your surroundings, especially if you can be outside. Feel the life around you. Embrace it. Feel the energy it gives off and share your own energy.
It will make a difference!
You just have to take that first step…and then you might choose to take another … but take the first one and then see what happens.